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Life is a Puzzle

Out on a Limb

by Kathryn Boughton

For almost three decades my husband has owned a house he built with his own hands in Maine, the state where he was born. The cabin offers an almost tactile sense of peace. A modest little building, it is finished inside with pine boards that have, over the years, mellowed to an amber hue.

On clear afternoons, with the sun sinking in the west, the walls take on a warm glow, rather like sitting inside a large pot of honey. And when winter winds howl and gray clouds spit snow, the solid walls provide a cozy buffer against nature’s force.

The house is a perfect haven, not least because we have limited electronic noise. Over the years we have relented somewhat and now have a television screen, but its use is confined to an occasional rented movie. No cable connects us to the outside world, nor would one be welcome.

Peaceful days and quiet evenings are spent reading or putting together a long succession of jigsaw puzzles. With only good music, a glass of wine or cup of tea, and the pleasure of each other’s company, we shut out the clamor and clatter of the wider world. Our biggest distractions are a doe and her fawn pausing to graze on the lawn or a worried mother turkey shepherding her scattering poults to safety in the trees.

The quiet leaves time for reflection and over the course of the years I have contemplated the life lessons captured in the scattered pieces of the puzzles we put together. Perhaps the greatest of these is persistence. Nothing is less obvious than a table full of disconnected pieces of different shapes and colors. It takes time to perceive them, to absorb their patterns, to bring order out of the chaos. How similar to our attempts to conduct our lives—without persistence many a venture would die aborning, its full potential unexplored.

Hard upon persistence, is patience, patience to find the right piece that fits in the right place. One after another they slip into the whole to create a complete picture, an image invisible when we first sit at the table. How like our lives, which can, from time to time, seem fragmented, with no clear path forward? But with patience and persistence, we can build the finished image of our beings.

All of this, of course, requires that we pay close attention. Often in a puzzle, finding the right piece requires attention to subtle clues. Is that tiny hint of color on the corner of a piece a match for the edge of a flower? Is that tone a shade darker or lighter than others already located in the puzzle’s body? In life, we fare better if we are aware of the nuances that surround us, the tiny signals that others send allowing us to interpret our place in their world. Details matter.

And finally, we shouldn’t force an issue. Sometimes in building a puzzle, a piece seems right. Everything about it—it’s color, its shape, its pattern—suggests that it belongs in a certain place. But when you put it down it is not right. It requires too much force to slip it in or is too loose and doesn’t mesh. No matter how good it looks, if it is not the right match the rest of the puzzle will be harder to solve—a fact as true in life as in a puzzle.

It is often said that life is a puzzle. To me, it seems that indeed it is.